The Summer Palace was a second residence for the emperor of China, it was used to escape the summer heat of the city. The location is just fifteen kilometers from central Beijing making it easily accessible by local bus. Unlike the barren flat grounds of the Forbidden City, this site is full of trees and greenery.
The palace stopped being used as an Imperial Garden in 1924 and was turned into a public park. The nearly three square kilometer area is situated around Kunming Lake and dominated by the sixty meter high Longevity Hill. The top of the hill offers impressive views of the lake and the city of Beijing.
This was one of our favorite temple sites in Beijing. We liked it not only for the beautiful gardens, but because many of the temples have not been restored. They have an aged and weathered look. Other historic sites in Beijing have been completely repainted in high gloss paint. They don’t have the same charm that we found the Summer Palace to have.
The name Summer Palace is translated from Yiheyuan which means Garden of Nurtured Harmony. The designers specifically planned the site to take advantage of the spectacular views of the city and surrounding landscape. There are a variety of palaces, gardens and other classical-style architectural structures, all were made using the finest materials.
The park never seems to end. We spent an entire day exploring the various pavilions, towers, bridges and corridors. The Summer Palace is ranked amongst the most noted classical gardens of the world. In 1998, it was listed as one of the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
A portion of the property has a canal running through it. On both sides there is a walkway lined with shops. The water is full of plants blooming with beautiful pink lotus flowers.
There are several courtyards on the property. We came across one with an old theater. There was a group of ladies performing a dance to traditional Chinese music. A sitting room faces the courtyard, this was where the emperor would be seated to view the entertainment. Like many other interior spaces it retains some of the original furnishings from the last time it was used by Chinese royalty.